‘Ghost town’ fear as shops strug­gle

Con­cern for fu­ture of once bustling cen­tre:

Glamorgan Gazette - - Front Page - BRONTE HOWARD [email protected]­plc.com

BRID­GEND town cen­tre was once a bustling hub with a thriv­ing mar­ket­place and an abun­dance of in­de­pen­dent shops.

But with more peo­ple shop­ping on­line and an in­creas­ing num­ber of su­per­mar­kets and shop­ping ar­cades, some fear town cen­tres are be­com­ing a thing of the past.

So is Brid­gend town cen­tre re­ally in dan­ger of be­com­ing a ghost town?

Shop­per Ge­orgina Whit­taker said she rarely vis­its the town cen­tre and would shop on­line or head to Cardiff, Swansea or even Bris­tol in­stead.

The 34-year-old from Brackla said there isn’t enough shops for her to visit, and there’s noth­ing to at­tract the younger gen­er­a­tions.

She said: “The shops have got worse over the years and they keep get­ting worse. It’s full of char­ity shops which I wouldn’t bother com­ing into town for.

“I’m only here to­day be­cause my car is in the garage down the road. I would like to see some more high street shops like a Pri­mark or River Is­land, and a de­part­ment store. Just more and bet­ter shops re­ally be­cause there isn’t much here.”

Ca­role James, who lives just out­side Brid­gend, also said she doesn’t shop in the town cen­tre very often.

“I think it’s hor­ri­ble, there aren’t many shops and the teenagers would rather go to McArthurGlen,” she said.

“It’s empty. I think there needs to be more in Brid­gend be­cause it isn’t like it used to be. I know more peo­ple are shop­ping on­line, but I think peo­ple would ac­tu­ally come to the town cen­tre if there were shops here for peo­ple to come to.

“I would pre­fer it if there were more shops in Brid­gend be­cause most of them are empty and there’s just a lot of char­ity shops. It doesn’t give off a good im­pres­sion.”

Brid­gend coun­cil (BCBC) says it would be “de­lighted” if stores such as Pri­mark were to come to Brid­gend but it has no say about which re­tail­ers open in the town cen­tre.

Coun­cil­lor Charles Smith, cab­i­net mem­ber for ed­u­ca­tion and re­gen­er­a­tion said: “We work with prop­erty own­ers to de­velop and en­hance build­ings to make the over­all shop­ping en­vi­ron­ment more at­trac­tive to brand-name in­vestors and shop­pers alike.

“An ex­am­ple of this can be seen in the way we pro­vided grant fund­ing which trans­formed a derelict build­ing in Adare Street and brought it back into use as the highly suc­cess­ful Corvo Lounge.

“We ac­tively en­cour­age all types of busi­ness to in­vest in the area, and also use ini­tia­tives such as the Vi­brant and Vi­able Places pro­gramme to de­velop a com­mu­nity of peo­ple liv­ing at the heart of the town cen­tre where they can sup­port lo­cal trade.”

Mar­ket traders Peter and Tim Wood run Peter Wood and Sons butch­ers in the in­door mar­ket in the Rhiw Shop­ping Cen­tre.

Peter set up the busi­ness in the 1970s and and now it’s run by son Tim, who said fewer peo­ple have been com­ing to the mar­ket over the years, and that it’s hard for town cen­tres to com­pete with the likes of McArthurGlen – which of­fers free park­ing and is open later.

Peter thinks the rise of big su­per­mar­kets has led to a de­cline in peo­ple shop­ping lo­cally.

He said: “Peo­ple used to come to the mar­ket to buy their meat, their bread and their fish. Now they can get it all in one place and the big su­per­mar­kets are able to re­duce their prices. I think that has had a big im­pact but I don’t think we can go back to how it was be­fore.”

An­other rea­son given by traders is pedes­tri­an­i­sa­tion, which was com­pleted in Brid­gend in 2004.

Freya Sykes-Blet­soe, owner of Ella Ri­ley’s Tra­di­tional Sweets in Nolton Street, is one of the in­de­pen­dent

traders back­ing plans to re­verse parts of the pedes­tri­an­i­sa­tion.

She said: “The town cen­tre is just aw­ful.”

She added: “We voted for the town to be de-pedes­tri­anised when BCBC had their con­sul­ta­tion, but that hasn’t hap­pened yet and the coun­cil says they don’t have the money for it.

“We need foot­fall, the town needs the foot­fall. Things aren’t go­ing to get any bet­ter un­less peo­ple can eas­ily get into and around the town cen­tre, and for that we need traf­fic.”

Like Ms Sykes-Blet­soe, many town cen­tre busi­nesses have long cam­paigned for cars to be al­lowed back into the bot­tom part of town to boost trade. In 2016 a scheme to re­verse pedes­tri­an­i­sa­tion was backed by the pub­lic in a bid to boost town cen­tre shop­ping, with al­most eight out of 10 peo­ple sup­port­ing the plan for Queen Street, Dun­raven Place and Mar­ket Street to be open to traf­fic.

Some traders say high busi­ness rates are also forc­ing in­de­pen­dent shops to close. One shop owner said that af­ter he has paid for his stock, rent and busi­ness rates, he prob­a­bly pays him­self about £3 an hour.

Dean Cole­man, the owner of Cir­cuit on Nolton Street, said busi­ness rates have “crip­pled him” and could force him to close down his elec­tri­cal store, a busi­ness he has run for the past five years.

The 35-year-old said: “I’m on my knees here and I’m not go­ing to lie, I don’t know how long I have left here. I can’t af­ford the busi­ness rates. It’s crip­pling in­de­pen­dent busi­ness own­ers like my­self. Af­ter you’ve paid your rent and your rates and your sup­pli­ers, what

do you have left?”

Mr Cole­man said he has fallen be­hind on pay­ing his busi­ness rates be­cause he claims they are too ex­pen­sive. He has now ac­cepted the fact he may have lim­ited time left on Nolton Street.

“No­body can af­ford to run a busi­ness here and it’s sad be­cause this is my home,” he added.

“When I was grow­ing up it was bustling. There were shops for ev­ery­one and ev­ery­thing. You had three or four butch­ers, a fish­mon­ger, bak­eries, Wool­lies and the mar­kets. I re­mem­ber walk­ing through the town when I was lit­tle and it was scary be­cause there were just so many peo­ple.

“It’s where ev­ery­one went. Now it’s a hell­hole. There is noth­ing here.”

But while traders like Mr Cole­man say high busi­nesses rates are lead­ing to shop clo­sures, it’s up to Welsh Gov­ern­ment to set busi­ness rates.

Last year it in­tro­duced the Small Busi­ness Rates Re­lief scheme, which many busi­nesses in Brid­gend ben­e­fit from.

In De­cem­ber, the now First Min­is­ter, Mark Drake­ford, said the Welsh Gov­ern­ment “will make an ex­tra £23.6m of sup­port avail­able in 2019-20 through the high street rates re­lief scheme to sup­port Welsh busi­nesses”.

Brid­gend BID man­ager Justin Jenk­ins said it is com­mit­ted to im­prov­ing the town cen­tre and en­cour­ag­ing more peo­ple to visit.

Mr Jenk­ins said the BID hosts var­i­ous events through­out the year – such as the Christ­mas mar­kets – and works along­side the lo­cal au­thor­ity to de­liver what res­i­dents and traders want.

It has also launched a Brid­gend gift card to try to en­cour­age more peo­ple to shop lo­cally.

Adare Street, Brid­gend

AN­DREW JAMES

Dun­raven Place. Brid­gend

Brid­gend town cen­tre

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